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Nursing Homes In Kansas City Prepare To Receive First COVID-19 Vaccinations

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A worker inside the walk-in freezer at McKesson’s Olive Branch, Mississippi, distribution center begins packing the first doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine into cooler boxes.

At least a third of the more than 300,000 COVID-19 deaths nationwide have been reported among residents and employees of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Long-term care facilities in Kansas City are preparing to be next in line for COVID-19 vaccinations following the FDA’s emergency authorization of the Moderna vaccine on Friday.

University of Kansas Health System officials said Monday that the distribution of the new vaccine will differ from that of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine because it doesn’t need to be housed in the same ultra-cold storage units.

More of the Moderna vaccine is set to go to rural areas and nursing homes that don’t have such units.

KU’s Dr. Jessica Kalender-Rich, a member of the Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes, said distribution of the vaccine marks another step forward in protecting those in long-term care facilities.

“We know that nursing home residents are the highest risk people when they get COVID-19, but also the highest risk of being exposed because of their congregate living situation,” Kalender-Rich said.

At least a third of the more than 300,000 COVID-19 deaths nationwide have been reported among residents and employees of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, according to a New York Times database.

CVS and Walgreens pharmacies will lead the effort to distribute the vaccine to long-term care facilities under partnerships with the federal government.

Nate Burrell is a pharmacist and district manager for CVS Health who oversees 18 pharmacies in the Kansas City metro and as far west as Salina. His teams will go into nursing homes, clad in protective gear, and give the shots.

We’re all just really proud and excited,” he said. “There’s really, really important work to be done and we’re fortunate enough to be able to do that work.”

Nursing homes will be able to choose between the two pharmacies and have them come to their facilities and administer the shots on-site over the course of at least three clinic visits.

“The residents don't have to leave. Importantly, the staff doesn't have to leave. Everyone who works or who lives in that building will get vaccinated at that time,” Kalender-Rich said.

Nikki Strong, executive director of the Missouri Health Care Association, a trade group representing hundreds of long-term care facilities in the state, said inoculations will likely get underway starting next week.

“We started hearing from facilities who said that CVS and Walgreens had actually set their vaccination date, their onsite clinic date,” Strong said. “So those dates are already starting to be scheduled.”

Kalender-Rich said some pre-surveys found that only half of staff members at long-term care facilities were excited to receive the vaccine. Her team is now launching an education campaign for staff ahead of their vaccination dates.

“Sometimes we're afraid of what we don't understand and what we don't know so really just explaining how it works, how it came out so quickly and all of the safety mechanisms that have already been put into place, we're hoping that that will increase that vaccination rate,” she said.

CVS and Walgreens have already begun vaccinations at some facilities across the country, and Kalender-Rich said health officials haven’t seen any problems with seniors receiving the vaccine so far.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Sunday that people 75 and older will be next in line for the vaccines.

KU health experts said that those individuals will get inoculated after frontline workers and nursing home residents once there are enough doses available.

Dr. Steven Stites, KU’s chief medical officer, said that will be the hospital’s next challenge.

“At some point, especially with the Moderna vaccine, this needs to be carried out in clinics because that's the only way to get to this population. To say, ‘Oh, we're going to have all aged 74 go to the health department,’ that's a big number of folks,” Stites said.

Stites said notifications for when it's time for the next phase of the vaccinations will come through local health departments.

The Wyandotte County Health Department has already made plans to set up a number of clinics for people to visit once the next phase starts, according to Stites. He said he expects that other local counties will follow suit.

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